What happened to Marissa Marcel? This question lies at the heart of Immortality, the latest game from Sam Barlow (Her Story & Telling Lies) and Half Mermaid Productions. It is a full-motion video tour de force that explores three movies, none of which were ever released. The game is releasing day one into Xbox Game Pass for console, cloud, and PC. Slowly you will uncover the mystery behind it all during the course of one of the more engrossing and disturbing stories that I have ever experienced in a video game. Just how does it all work? It’s best found out on your own, so join me for an incredibly light and spoiler-free review of perhaps the best experience in video games this year.
We start with the first film in model Marissa Marcel’s career, which was filmed in 1968. It is a retelling of the classic “The Monk”. Directed by an Alfred Hitchcock type the book has been turned into something far different, more tawdry and full of sex and nudity. The game doesn’t shy away from any of this. In fact it starts off by stating the adult nature of it all. Warnings for suicides, murder, sex, and plenty of nudity hold true throughout this 5+ hour-long affair. None of it ever felt exploitative, despite being used in exploitative ways within the story itself.
Your interaction is through something akin to the old Moviola system. Created back in the 1920s for decades this was how films were edited. Putting this into future video game form you’re working a piece of software that has access to hundreds of clips comprising the three never finished or released movies of Marissa’s career. You can use the triggers or analog sticks to move backward and forwards through each clip. A pauses and Y is the key to the entire thing. This allows you to select certain objects in the frame and if the icon changes you can press A to activate a Match Cut. This instantly jumps you, the in-game logic being through this software, to any matching item in another clip. You will learn the rhythm of things quickly, and how scrubbing back and forth can be key at times.
It is an incredibly effective system and one you must learn the intricacies of on your own. In my first hour or so I was enjoying being told a story but not doing much interaction. Once the “game” part of things clicked I was stunned. I don’t want to describe that part anymore because it would be a disservice to what they’ve built here, so let us get back into what each movie is. Another suggestion is to make sure you play with a controller while wearing headphones if possible. Subtle audio queues and the vibration built into modern gaming pads are key to the experience.
Minsky & Two of Everything
Filmed in 1970 Marissa co-wrote this detective noir story set in New York with the Director of Photography from Ambrosio. It features a hard-boiled detective working a case that takes him into the seedy underbelly of the art world. You as the player will repeatedly jump back and forth in time, and keeping all of this in context is the grid system. You’re introduced to it early on but only after you’ve played for a while does the vastness of this title hit you. At my rough count, there were over 200 clips in the game, and the grid system is tutorialized well enough to help you understand what is happening and when.
The final film is titled Two of Everything and is a comeback for Marissa. The very first clip of the game isn’t actually set in any movie, it’s a talk show featuring a Johnny Carson type. He interviews Marissa and her writing partner on Minsky in segments that hit at the institutional misogyny that has gone on throughout the entirety of human history. The game never hits you over the head with just how shitty people can be but the racist “jokes” and constant putting down of the two actresses by the director of Ambrosio made my skin crawl.
It’s effective because the acting and writing are stellar. The sets and filming techniques do a great job of selling how different each era of Marissa’s life that we get to see was for her. The game is a masterclass on how to take something not linear yet make it work. Even on my 2nd playthrough despite seeing so many key scenes in a different order it all worked. I found scenes I had missed the first time that added in extra context as well, giving the game solid replay value if you’re looking for it. There is music that plays throughout your journey and it swells alongside specific audio indicators in ways that made my skin crawl. It is beautiful and terrifying.
Once this game has been out for a while, I might never stop talking about it. It is a triumph in the FMV game genre. One that elevates it to heights I could have never imagined for the video game medium. It’s releasing directly into Game Pass, so there is no reason you shouldn’t at least give it a try. This is one of the, if not the best gaming experiences of my lifetime.
|Reviewed on||Xbox Series X|
|Available on||Xbox, PC, Mac, iOS, & Android|
|Release Date||August 30th, 2022|
|Developer||Half Mermaid Productions|
|Publisher||Half Mermaid Productions|
|Rated||M for Mature|